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#2466: A soccer dilemma for immigrants (fwd)


Published Wednesday, February 16, 2000, in the Miami Herald            
 A soccer dilemma for immigrants

 The United States was playing Haiti in the first game of the Gold Cup
2000 at the Orange Bowl, and my family and I were going -- along with
30,000 spirited Haitians dressed in the red and blue of their flag.
 We had bought the tickets months ago and planned an extended outing
around it with sisters, nieces, nephews and friends. The U.S. team was
the favorite, ranked 22nd by soccer's world sanctioning body. Haiti was
ranked 99th.  There was no question which team my sisters, nieces and
nephews were rooting for. A nephew -- who became an All-American high
school soccer player while living with us in Missouri -- played with
Seleccion Haiti in the Copa Latina and was the Haitian national squad's
official escort. It wasn't that easy with my family, which, like many
others in South Florida, has mixed loyalties. My wife is a
second-generation American. Our American-born children have been bred
instinctively to support underdogs. In the World Cup, we naturally
supported the U.S. team, which has been prey to soccer top dogs in the
 world since time immemorial. I, though, faced a dilemma. Do I cheer for
the United States, my adopted country, or for Haiti, the country of my
birth? I've been blessed in America, and I'm proud of my heritage. And
as usual, wherever the U.S. team plays, Americans waving the
 Stars and Stripes were too rare. Yet soccer is a passion in Haiti,
where I learned to play the game. I was once among the barefooted kids
you still might see in photos who kick around a sock stuffed into the
shape of a ball. There wasn't any other entertainment around when
 I was growing up there. Even television was out of reach in Jacmel, my
 hometown. Much has changed there since my family immigrated to the
United States more than three decades ago, and not for the better.
Seared in the world's consciousness are images of Haitian migrants dying
on the high seas fleeing poverty and political instability. And now
traffickers use Haiti to ship cocaine to Miami. The soccer team,
Haitians reason, is among the few things that can provide pride.
 Each victory is an affirmation of a Haitian's national worth, a way to
tell the world: ``See, I'm more than a refugee, poor and however else
you see me.'' That's why angry Haitian fans stormed the field at
Lockhart Stadium last September during a friendly game between the
Fusion, the local professional team, and the Haitian national squad. A
referee had disallowed what would have been Haiti's tying goal -- and
the team's fans felt robbed of that rare measure of
 pride. So as I sat in the Orange Bowl last weekend, I concluded that
Haiti needed a boost, and we would provide it. They were definitely the
underdogs. Our youngest son and his cousin draped themselves in a huge
Haitian flag amid a red-and-blue spectacle of bandannas and T-shirts
proclaiming ``Proud To Be Haitian.'' It was an extraordinary gathering
of Miami's Haitian family. I ran into a long-ago classmate from Brooklyn
College. Even Haitian President Rene Preval showed up. The cheering soon
stopped, though. The United States dominated immediately, beating Haiti
3-0. The bubble had burst. Hopes were dashed. But I left proud to be a